Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Interview with Susan K. Mitchell

Kersplatypus by Susan K. Mitchell, illustrated by Sherry Rogers. Sylvan Dell, 2008. (review copy from publisher) In our house we've been enjoying this latest book by Susan K. Mitchell. It's a quest story of a little platypus looking for his place in the world. He wanders through the Tasmanian countryside asking other animals to help him find where he truly belongs. My five year old son enjoyed the story and had fun doing the extended learning activities in the back of the book. I was delighted to be able to interview the author here as part of her blog tour.

Interview with Susan K. Mitchell:

Cc: Hi Susan! I've just finished reading your great website and I feel like I am already getting to know you. You've told us that you loved reading and writing as a child and your favorite authors were Laura Ingals Wilder, E. B. White and "ANYTHING by Beverly Cleary or Judy Blume". Me too! I was tickled to hear your parents kept your old books for you. Mine did too! :) Do your girls love those books now? I imagine you reading the old favorites out loud to them and I have to smile. What else do your kids delight in?

SKM: My oldest daughter is just getting into the Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume books. She LOVES Charlotte’s Web. And I discover new favorites as they find books they enjoy. We just read the entire Spiderwick Chronicles (all 5 books) outloud in one Saturday. It was so much fun!

Cc: I read your book Kersplatypus to my five year old son last night and he was fascinated. I am curious about how you chose the Australian theme. All the animals in the story are Australian and somewhat new to us. Is that a particular place of interest for you?

SKM: The Australian theme chose me! That story was born out of one single word. When my youngest was 2, she fell down one day. Being the dutiful Mommy, I scooped her up, dried her tears, and said, “Oh baby! Did you fall and go kersplatypus?” I instantly loved the word and just ran with it.

Cc: When I was a child my uncle and aunt lived in Australia for many years. They often told us of their trips to the Outback and I loved hearing about the strange-but-familiar life they lead. Have you ever been to Australia? It's interesting to me how so many things are much the same for us in America (similar European cultural roots) but at the same time completely foreign, being the other side of the world. How did that impact your writing process?

SKM: I have never been to Australia or the Rainforest (my other book). However, if I had REALLY been thinking I’d have taken a trip. My writing process is impacted by the weirdest place on Earth --- my mind *lol*.

Cc: I think North American children will be delighted to learn about the unique attributes of Australian animals. I can remember being particularly interested in the platypus when I was a child. Tell us more about how you researched the characters in your book. Did you already have a good knowledge of the ways of the platypus, the kookaburra and the blue-tongued skink?

SKM: Believe it or not, even a fictional story has to be well-researched. I had to make sure that every animal in the book would actually be found in the same habitat as the platypus (in this case it is Tasmania). I also had to research weather, flora, and fauna … the whole lay of the land to make it accurate. Librarians will spot an error very quickly. I want to be as accurate as possible. Of course, all of the Sylvan Dell books are vetted for accuracy – so I had someone else watching out for me as well.

Cc:I have to admit I only knew some of the terminology in your book from knowing the song "Waltzing Matilda". Words such as "walkabout", and "billabong", for example. Did you consciously include vocabulary from the song into the story as a bridge for bringing us into the setting?

SKM: Yes, it was very deliberate. I wanted it to have an Aussie feel without being too corny. Plus, I love that song!

Cc: My son and I are also enjoying the supplemental materials in the back of the book. Although some of the information is beyond his kindergarten-level skills, he loved doing the matching activity and learning facts about the animals in the story. I found it to be a nice range of activities for a variety of ability levels.Can you tell us how that was developed?

SKM: Sylvan Dell Publishing is SO wonderful! They put education first and foremost --- second only to a good story that is well written. They develop the Creative Minds section for each book. Since I am a teacher as well, I particularly love it. It adds a great depth to the book in my opinion.

Cc: We had fun exploring the activities on the website of Sylvan Dell as well. What a great way to supplement the book! How did you get involved in this project?

SKM: Again, that is all Sylvan Dell. They are amazing! To have that type of support as an author is almost unheard of in the publishing industry.

CC: I have to say I think the whole package is brilliant. The story is charming and complex. My son was enthralled by the lost platypus seeking home. The helpful animals and the mocking skink all added depth to the story. The illustrations are engaging and the refreshing choice of Australian animals gave it a special zing. What are you working on next?

SKM: *blushes* That is so sweet of you to say. I am honored! I do have some picture books in the works but nothing under contract right now. I actually write a great deal of non-fiction for older readers – upwards of 8 books/year. I am developing a brand new animal series for the educational market. Those will join the more than 15 non-fiction books already out there.

Cc:Thanks so much for speaking with me today and coming to A Wrung Sponge on your blog tour!

SKM: Oh, it is absolutely my pleasure!

Author interview at World of Words
Susan K. Mitchell's website
Other reviews of Kersplatypus
blog reviews on JacketFlap


Charlotte said...

Thanks for the great interview-this sounds like a book that would be enjoyed in my house too!

M.F. Atkins said...

Thanks so much for linking to my interview too. I really enjoyed the book also!
World of Words

Hannah said...

Oh that's marvelous! I've learned more about her today than in school on a regular day! Smitchell, as almost 1,000 people on a single website seem to call her, writes so vividly and wonderfully- It's just truely AMAZING! :)